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Review: Dance Nation, at Almeida Theatre

Joy, rage and confusion in sharply directed play about teenage dancers that doesn’t shirk the difficult issues of adolescence

06 September, 2018 — By Sipora Levy

Best feet forward: the cast of Dance Nation. Photo: Marc Brenner

DANCE Nation blazes onto the Almeida stage after receiving critical acclaim off-Broadway.

The premise of Clare Barron’s play is familiar – a group of ambitious young performers and their coach prepare for a national competition.

There are certainly nods to Glee and A Chorus Line, but the comparisons are superficial. What makes Dance Nation unique is that Barron has decided to focus on the raw and visceral inner lives of a group of 13-year-old girls.

The language is full of joy, rage and confusion and at times it is not an easy watch.

In her stage directions Barron states “cuteness is death. Pagan feral-ness and ferocity is key.”

We witness female puberty in all its glorious, messy and fearful reality. The play doesn’t shy away from depicting self-harm, menstruation and masturbation.

Another original twist is to have adult actors ranging in age from 20s through to 60s playing 13-year-olds. They brilliantly convey the all-consuming energy of their adolescent characters, and also something of the adults they will become, with their compromises and disappointments.

Dance Teacher Pat (Brendan Cowell) decides his students are going to deliver Gandhi’s life in dance(!)

There is rivalry between Amina (Karla Crome) and Zuzu (Ria Zmitrowicz) for the principal roles, which test loyalties within the group.

The “Dance Moms”, with their various ambitions and regrets are sensitively portrayed by Amanda Foster.

The set design by Samal Blak is a joy, changing effortlessly from mirrored dance studio to a moonlight drive. One of the mirrors opens to reveal a toilet where the girls are seen self-harming and fearful.

Sharply directed by Bijan Sheibani, the acting is excellent throughout.

By cleverly choosing dance as a vehicle for her play, Barron allows women, and in particular adolescent girls, to literally take up space. This is something that they have rarely been given the opportunity to do.

An outstanding moment is when Keila Meikel as Ashlee delivers a staggeringly powerful monologue on the glory and rage of being a 13-year-old girl. Respect.

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